Today’s columnist, Dr Mary Wren: Instant is not always best

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Sometimes I wonder how much medicine we use and how many tests we do that are not necessary.

I have been aware recently, that it is so much easier to arrange a test or give a prescription, than it is to spend time talking through the problem and looking at other options. There are several reasons for this.

Firstly, we live in a culture that implies we should be entitled to what we want, when we want it.

This is the idea that problems can be solved immediately, hunger can be satisfied instantly and illnesses should be sorted with a pill.

Sometimes I sit with a patient and talk through options and at the end they tell me they just want a pill because it is quick.

Then there is the feeling that medicine is so advanced now, with so much available-that there should be a medical answer for everything.

Our Western culture feeds into this – making it seem like doctors know everything, technology can solve anything and that there must be something we can be given or take that makes things better.

Then there are exhausted medical staff who are working really long hours under pressure.

Sometimes it is easier to write a prescription or get some blood tests, rather than take time in an already over-running surgery

It’s a combination of things that doesn’t benefit the patient, the doctor or the NHS as a whole.

There was a really interesting article recently in the British Medical Journal.

The Academy of Medical Royal Colleges says “there is growing evidence that pressure for doctors to “do something” at each consultation has led to patients sometimes receiving treatments that are of little or no value”.

Doctors are being encouraged to prescribe and investigate less and patients are encouraged to ask: “Do I really need this test or procedure? Are there simpler options? What happens if I do nothing?”

For years I have found that it takes twice as long to explain to someone why I am not giving antibiotics, as it does to just give a prescription.

There is a responsibility on both sides here – for doctors to take the time to explain options and be honest about what will just get better, and for patients to listen and be willing to wait.

And sometimes we have to use common sense, change our lifestyle, wait for the virus to go, rest and be patient.

An instant response isn’t always the best response.

* Dr Mary Wren, Sheffield GP